The New Dating Game

Smartphone apps have turned courtship into an addictive pastime. Can love really be just a swipe away?

Therese + Joel for TIME

A group of girlfriends gathers at Baby’s All Right, a Brooklyn bar, to play a Tinder drinking game.

The first time I swiped, I was sardined between friends on a train back to New York City. With an hour to go and conversation running dry, we decided to download a smartphone app we kept seeing people use during our weekend away: Tinder. Suddenly the screen of my phone was inundated with an ever updating stream of male suitors: loafer-wearing Kip, 28, popping champagne on the deck of a boat (pretentious — swipe left!); shirtless Aaron, 31, winking at his reflection (bathroom-mirror selfie — swipe left!). My fingers were moving so quickly, I almost mistakenly swiped left for tall, dimpled Peter, 30, smiling from a mountaintop (swipe right!). I soon experienced my first Tinder high — the endorphin rush of a match. Somewhere "5 miles away," Peter liked me too. I was hooked.

Tinder is one of a host of new mobile dating apps based on a system of snap judgments that function kind of like a game for millenials. We've been dubbed the hook-up generation, ambitious multitaskers who commit reluctantly and are obsessed with digital distractions. This is both true and an oversimplification. These apps play to stereotypes while simultaneously perpetuating them. Because even if we typically marry three to four years later than Gen Xers, we still (eventually) want love, and it's too soon to know if this crop of dating apps will make finding it easier or leave us trapped in a new kind of flirting limbo.

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